Successful Promotions Without Breaking the Bank

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

The key to being successful at marketing is to plan your strategy—before spending money—by defining the audience you want to promote your business to, the message you want to send, and how you’re going to get the word out.

Implementing a specific promotion is most often an all-out advertising effort to bring in new clients. A promotion can also be directed at your existing clients in the interest of getting them to return and to refer new people. One example: offer your existing clients the opportunity to bring a friend for free, with the stipulation that it must be someone who has never been to your business before and that they must live in the area. It won’t bring you any new business to give this promotion to the cousin who is visiting from out of state.


One promotional phenomenon that has taken off on the Internet is Groupon ( Businesses of all types sign on with Groupon and discount their services or products 50 percent, on average. Groupon features one business per day in a city and is currently available in about 150 larger cities. Unfortunately, the service is not yet available in small towns, although if you live in the suburbs of a metropolitan area, it may still pay off. Many people who work in cities live, shop, and get services in outlying areas.

Subscribers receive an email every morning offering the opportunity to purchase a coupon from a local business at a steeply discounted price. The featured business and Groupon agree on a minimum number of customers who have to buy. The customer’s credit card is not charged until the minimum is met. The business owner is not paying out any money up front—Groupon keeps half the face value of the coupons sold, charges the credit card processing fees to the business owner, and pays the owner the rest in equal installments over a period of three months.

The Groupon website is filled with success stories that in many cases exceeded the business owner’s expectations. In fact, Groupon will no longer feature a massage therapy or other private practice as the main deal of the day, due to the fact that so many practitioners were overwhelmed with the number of people who bought into the promotions. After Groupon received numerous complaints about people not being able to get in for an appointment, in some markets they have limited private practitioners to a “Side Deal.” Subscribers have to click on a link in the daily email to reach this offer, but instead of being featured for 24 hours like the main coupon, Side Deals may be offered for two to four days.

Susan and Shane Epperly, massage therapists from Austin, Texas, were featured through the site last year. Groupon emailed the Epperly’s discount offer to 35,000 people in the area. “We sold 500 $35 vouchers by 4:00 p.m. on the day we were featured,” Susan says. “One of the things that has been so great about the new clients that we were able to attract is the fact that, while they are mostly professionals, they are all from different industries and professions, so this has allowed us to diversify our clientele.”

David Turner, a therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina, had such a massive response to his Groupon offer that it facilitated moving into a bigger office and hiring another therapist. He sold 764 Groupons, and three months later, 256 had been redeemed. Like the Epperly’s, Turner’s offer was limited to new clients. At the $29 sale price, he is actually taking in $13.75 for an hour of massage—but again—feels it was definitely worth it due to all the new clientele. Another perk: just like gift certificates, there will be a certain amount of vouchers that will never be redeemed (between 15–20 percent, based on reports from other businesses that have used them), which ultimately will bring your profit margin back up.

Kenny Lyons of Louisville, Kentucky, signed on with Groupon and took advantage of the fact that you can limit the number sold. He capped his number at 200, which quickly sold out. His offer was one hour of massage for $35; he says 14 percent of the people who have redeemed the vouchers rebooked on the first visit.

How to Discount Without Going Broke

If you’re going to discount your services, you have to take several things into consideration. Of course you want clients to feel like they’re getting something special, but you have to balance that with what you can realistically afford to give up money-wise, also taking into account that you may need to work longer hours in order to make up the difference. If your break-even point (the amount of massage you have to perform in a month in order to pay your bills—the rest is profit) is 50 massages, based on charging $60 an hour, and you’re offering a 20 percent discount, that means you’ll need to do 10 additional massages during the month in order to break even. Are you able to handle that? Like Turner, your discounting could bring in enough business that you find it necessary to expand your business, or it could turn into a less-than-pleasant experience if you don’t plan properly.

If you’re in business and you haven’t figured your break-even point, do so before you decide what type of discount you’re going to offer and factor in the extra massages you’ll need to do in order to make up the difference so you can avoid wearing yourself out, yet still meet your expenses.

Sustainable Promotions

The best sustainable promotion is offering package deals: getting people to pay in advance for a certain number of sessions in order to receive one free. Although it does cut the price of each massage (good for the client), it also guarantees that you’re going to get him or her in the door X number of times (good for you). I also allow people with package deals to share with friends and family. That has always worked well; it brings in a variety of people, and often the person the package was shared with ends up purchasing one as well, or at least rebooking. Another good sustainable promotion is to publicize the fact that you offer discounted services to a certain population on an ongoing basis, such as “10 percent off every day to public servants” (police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel) or veterans, employees at a nearby factory, or whatever group you decide you’d like to cultivate as clients. This isn’t a budget-buster, and when you’re targeting a certain group, remember those people sometimes travel in packs—get one factory worker or one fire fighter in with the discount, and they’ll tell their coworkers.

If you’ve attended a continuing education class and learned a new technique, you can promote that with a discount: “Try a lomilomi massage for $80.” If you’ve added other services to your menu, consider a seasonal promotion: “Get rid of winter-time dry skin with a moisturizing mud treatment,” or “Get ready for bathing-suit weather with our peppermint salt scrub,” and offer it at an introductory price for the first treatment, or like massage, as a package deal.

Social Media and the Internet

Chances are you’re hooked up to the Internet. You should be maximizing the use of that to the advantage of your business. If you’re not using social media yet, what are you waiting for? It’s free! Your only investment is the time it takes to type an announcement. Fan pages are a Facebook feature for businesses. Include the fact that you have a fan page for your business on your other advertising and watch your list of fans grow. Many therapists, including me, have conducted promotions along the lines of “Book your appointment today and mention that you saw it on Facebook; you’ll get $10 off the price of your massage.”

There are a lot of other companies besides Groupon that offer targeted email marketing. These companies collect data on consumer habits and compile mailing lists based on the data, which they’ll then sell for a price or handle the mailing for you. They can also develop targeted marketing for your website by placing click-per-pay or flat-fee ads on other sites that appeal to people with an interest in your type of business with the intent of driving traffic to your website. In order to track the effectiveness of promoting your business in this way, you can’t depend on the number of hits your website gets, but the actual number of people who come in because of it. Have a statement on your website announcing an Internet-only special for people who make an online booking or purchase an online gift certificate, or telling them to mention when they call that they saw your Internet special offer of $10 off the price of their first massage.

Using your own email list can still be a smart way to spread the word for a targeted promotion; in fact, it was how I spread the word for the most successful promotion I’ve conducted to date. A few months ago, I held a ladies’ day. I invited some vendors to have displays in my office: a woman who sells lingerie, another who sells handmade jewelry, another who sells handbags. We offered massage for 50 percent off and sweetened the deal on our packages; instead of our usual offer of buy five/get one free, we offered buy five/get two free (paid in advance). The only advertising I did for this event was to send it out to my email list, and in less than 48 hours we sold out—61 appointments. Our gift certificate and package deal sales on that day came to almost $10,000. It was such an amazing success that I plan to do it every year, and I intend to have another one directed toward men.

On a final note, regardless of the promotion you create, utilizing the Internet is an important tool in your marketing campaign. If you don’t already have a website, now’s the time to get one. The public almost expects every business to have a presence on the Internet. It’s a great way for new clients to find you and for existing clients to keep up with your special promotions. You also can use it to increase your mailing list. You can even offer appointment bookings and sell gift certificates. It’s a smart, low-cost way to market your business, and once it’s set up, it requires minimal effort to maintain. When someone calls my business and wants to ask 20 questions, I ask if they have Internet access and direct them to my website. Putting your Web address on your marketing materials will automatically drive traffic to your site. It’s a huge time-saver.

 Laura Allen is the author of Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009) and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). A third book, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business, will also be published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Allen is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, a continuing education facility and alternative wellness clinic of more than a dozen practitioners of different disciplines in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Visit her website at